Thursday, October 14, 2010


33 Chilean miners have just been rescued today after trapped 700 meters underground for the last 69 days. It is exactly a wonderful piece of inspiration news that we need these days. Certainly, different aspects of such international eye-catching story are being sliced and diced as expected. If this incident happens in the States, I’m sure a temporary ‘industry’ will be formed as a result; as money-making opportunities have been all over it. Yes, how the government, industry, and company have responded to the incident, what they should do in future to prevent from recurrence, the technology and techniques being deployed in the rescue are important. But they are more or less the ‘cold’ facts that a relatively smaller size of population (I happen to be one of them) will be interested. On the other hand, the human side of the story is what gonna be covered to death in coming future. Cuz, the readers/audiences are prone to tears and joy, it would be easier for them to digest news reports of the experience as well as emotional state of the trapped miners throughout the whole incident. Since there are 33 ‘crops’ to be picked that hopefully the pressure on the miners and their families would be relieved somehow. However, I would predict that some ‘stars’ out of the 33 will emerge and their stories will be more focused than the others. I guess that those ‘star miners’ are gonna be extroverts, better looking, single rather than married, emotionally expressive, with more unique family background. As such, they will definitely be singled out by the news media and they will be more likely to be the recipients of various exposure opportunities in the forms of book, interview on talk show, movie, spokesmen, etc. Reportedly, some of them are already on the pipeline. The bottom line is that those 33 individuals are gonna be busy in near future.

Put aside the media hoopla of the celebrity creation aspect of the incident, I personally would be more interested in the technical side of the rescue, the sociological effect of the incident on the Chilean society, future actions by the Chilean government/mining industry in accident prevention, and the psyche/experience of the miners. Yes, I’m kinda ‘greedy’ to know multiple sides of this story.

First of all, survivable mining accidents are relatively rare (I don’t have the stat, just based on my impression), particularly those with larger group of people trapped/buried underground for long period. I’ve read that the geographical characteristic of this mine (for being a copper mine near dessert rather than coal mine in moister region) enhanced the survivability of miners as well as the effectiveness of the rescue method being deployed. Reportedly, technology from military and NASA were used, specific drilling method and rescue tools were being developed as well. I think magazine like Popular Mechanics, Science American, etc should dedicate an issue to cover this incident. Can the technology be reused in future in similar or different incident? That would be interesting to hear what experts will say.

Chile is not a country that got much cover by international news media, though it is the third largest country in S. America. The last time that it was on the headline in international news was the devastated earthquake happened last year. Why I am interested in how the incident affected the social psyche of the country is because of few factors about this country. Chile has a population of about 16 million, a modest size and less diversified than other big countries which have so much going on that national attention would be hard to be converged. For example, in contrast to Katrina or BP oil spill, lives still go on as usual for people in northern part and E/W coasts of the U.S. In addition, mining accounts for 40% of Chilean national income. So, this industry is a big deal in this country, and many people would know someone working in mines. This incident, unlike the earthquake, is a man-made accident that should be preventable. How the democratic Chilean government will do to improve the safety of mines in order to retain support from the population would be a good reference for other countries, particularly for China which have the highest toll of death in mining accidents in the world.

Finally, for the 69 days that the 33 miners were trapped underground, my interests of their experiences in the first 17 days (before their survivals were known to the outside world) and the rest 52 days are very different. There are just so many things I would like to know for quenching my thirst of curiosity.

For day 0-17, what I wanna know are:
- What did they do when they learnt that there was an accident? Where did they go and do to stay alive? What did they think at the time?
- Once they know they are safe but trapped, what did those 33 people think and behave? I can imagine that different personalities will behave differently. That reminded me of the movie "12 Angry Men", though the situation was different that those were jurors that locked behind the courtroom to analyze a murder case. The 33 miners were sure a diverse group of people in age, live experience, and characters. How they communicate and support each other would be very interesting. I believe that there must be leader(s) among them. Spiritually, I guess that they might pray to thank for their survival as well as for the hope of being found.
- But, as days go by, everybody must have gone through emotional rollercoaster. How do they keep their hope and stay sane? I would say that is the most interesting thing I wanna know. Also, practically, how do they stay alive in those 17 days without external assistance? How do they manage water, food, and shelter that they had within the group? Was it cold/hot down there? How about ventilation? Where did they go for number 1 & 2?
- What do they do all day long? Had they lost their sense of time? Had their biological clock changed? Did they still feel hungry 3 times a day? Sleepy at night time?
- How do they tolerate the long darkness and silence? I can imagine that many of them told their life stories, some of them would tell jokes, and told everyone what/who do they miss the most, and said what would they do if they get out. What did they do when someone broke down? how they help each other emotionally? For being interest in survival stories, the knowledge of their experience is simply priceless. That would be comparable to other real life incidents recorded by the book ‘Into Thin Air’ about how a group of mountaineers stay alive for being trapped on Himalaya on a hiking trip, and the movie ‘Alive’ about a group of hockey players that trapped on Mount Andes as a result of a plane crash, how they have resorted to eat corpses of their teammates to stay alive after chocolate and bottle of wine had been consumed, and venture out to seek help.

For day 18 – 69, I would like to know
- How excited they were for being found alive. That would be like reborn again I guess.
- What do think when they were told that it would take months before they can be rescued? Did they curse? Cry? Scream? Etc.
- When the outside world was able to drill a narrow tunnel to deliver supplies to them via a 5 inches wide tube, did they fight for supplies? How did they feel when they taste fresh water and foods again after 17 days? What did they think when their survival had been informed to their families?
- How did their daily life changed in those 52 days with external supplies? What were delivered to them by the rescuers? Cuz, that should be quite specific for their situation in terms of clothing, foods, drinks, and medicines, etc. How their hygiene conditions were improved and maintained? What did they ask to be delivered to them? That could be an expression of their emotional connections to the world, and those things would be considered to be important to them. Besides communication with love ones via video-cam, did they ask for toys, personal stuff, or something out of ordinary?
- What were the emotional states when they are pulled up the shaft of 700 meters? Were they scared? Stay hopeful? Thought about what to say and do when they first breathe the fresh air above the ground?

I’m sure if I’ve time to do digging among the 16,000+ news reports of this incident on Google, some of my questions should have answers.* However, there will be more questions that their answers won’t be known for years to come. I.e. what extent of posttraumatic stress disorder (PDS) that these 33 men will suffer. Would they have nightmare? Some kinds of phobia of darkness or locked spaces, like elevator? I’m sure their psychological healing is gonna last for years. Anyway, the lives of these 33 people have forever changed one way or the other. One thing that I believe is that they should all become life-cherish persons after surviving such ordeal.
* Indeed, some answers can be found here.


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